Everybody's guide to happy oblivion-SLEEP

Can you lick insomnia? Can you "store" sleep? What are dreams? Here's what the experts know about your nightly other world when you are dead to this one

JOAN WEATHERSEED February 20 1965

Everybody's guide to happy oblivion-SLEEP

Can you lick insomnia? Can you "store" sleep? What are dreams? Here's what the experts know about your nightly other world when you are dead to this one

JOAN WEATHERSEED February 20 1965

Everybody's guide to happy oblivion-SLEEP

Can you lick insomnia? Can you "store" sleep? What are dreams? Here's what the experts know about your nightly other world when you are dead to this one


FEW PEOPLE, EXCEPT scientific researchers and bedding manufacturers, are really interested in the mysterious phenomenon of sleep. But vast numbers of us are concerned with not sleeping —so much so that between 1951 and 1963 Canadian imports of sleep-inducing barbiturates jumped 158 percent while the population was rising 36 percent.

Sleeplessness itself is seldom if ever fatal, and has often been lightly dismissed by doctors, but there is growing evidence that links it with accidents, alcoholism, broken marriages, ruined careers. Because of this, doctors have been taking it more seriously in recent years.

The accepted theory still is that a normal, reasonably healthy person should “rough out“ an occasional restless night and that sleeping pills should be a last resort. But more physicians are prescribing more of these pills, while some specialists are exploring other, nonchemical methods of combatting insomnia, w'hich can plague humans of any age and either sex.

What causes sleeplessness? The answers vary. In infants, according to researchers, insomnia indicates improper handling—for example. too rigid a feeding schedule. In older children it can be caused by practically any emotion—fear, worry, disappointment, pleasant anticipation.

In adults who are not ill it is likely to be caused by one of two things: the stimulation of the past day, or unconscious psychological conflicts which make us tense and unable to relax, so that our blood vessels contract, keeping blood pressure high, and muscles working overtime sending a steady stream ot nerve impulses to the brain.

Insomnia comes in three types: difficulty in getting to sleep, broken sleep (that is, with one or more periods of wakefulness in the middle of the night), and w'aking up too early (and not being able to fall asleep again).

According to Dr. Nathaniel Kleitman. a former professor of physiology at the University of Chicago who spent forty years investigating sleep and wakefulness, the first type is the most common and is what a person usually means when he says he "cannot sleep.“

The second type may be caused by unpleasant dreams which the subject may not even recall on waking.

The third type is more likely to occur in elderly people. Kleitman maintains that these people need less night sleep than younger people, but in a new study of sleep habits and illness, Dr. Philip M. Tiller, Jr., of New Orleans, claims this isn’t so. The more sleep elderly people get, says Tiller, the fewer are their symptoms of functional illness, such as fatigue, apprehension, tension and physical discomfort.

Dr. Ian Oswald, of Edinburgh University, adds a fourth type of insomnia, in which a person is convinced he doesn’t sleep at all, even though in fact he may sleep most of the night.

“The primary effect of a moderate amount of sleep deprivation—say, one or two nights,’’ says Lt.-Col. Harold L. Williams of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Washington, “is to produce slowing in performance. The subject is able to perform about as well as he ever could most of the time, but he has moments when he is unable to perform as rapidly or as accurately.” U. S. investigators report that seven percent of all accidents on fifteen turnpikes surveyed were caused by the driver drowsing at the wheel. Insomnia, they suggest, may well have been a factor in causing this drowsiness.

A proven effect of sleeplessness is the inability to commit new things to memory. A person can remember things he knew before he went short of sleep, but is unable to store new information. “Lack of sleep may be the cause of many difficulties students encounter when they reach university,” says Dr. E. G. Clarke, senior tutor at Victoria College, University of Toronto.

Col. Williams gives another result of loss of sleep: loss of temper. “You find yourself at times becoming very angry about an incident that normally wouldn’t cause such anger, and not quite realizing how it could have happened, or what precipitated it.”

R. T. Wilkinson, a Cambridge University researcher, tested a group of volunteers for speed or accuracy in “serial choice,” vigilance, sorting of playing cards according to suits or values, and memorizing lists of numbers. Performances in such games as chess, darts and table tennis, organized to keep the subjects occupied between the main tests, were also assessed. Wilkinson concluded that efficiency in activities involving vigilance or repetitive work was greatly reduced or even lost after more than one night without sleep; more difficult but more interesting tasks were completed without much loss of efficiency. Indeed, in one test involving a “battle game,” efficiencies after thirty hours without sleep were actually higher than normal—because of the game’s interest and immediately visible results. Athletes sometimes perform better after a bad night’s sleep because they are tense.

Forced wakefulness in the cause of research is one thing, involuntary wakefulness is another, but either way, in a healthy person the need for sleep becomes an overwhelming craving and eventually defeats insomnia.

Why do we need sleep? “Sleep is commonly looked upon as a periodic temporary cessation. or interruption of the waking state, which is the prevalent mode of existence for the healthy human adult,” says Dr. Kleitman. “Sleep is a complement to the waking state, the two constituting alternate phases of a cycle.”

While we sleep, all our body functions, except growth, slow down, body temperature drops, and there is a suspension of consciousness, more or less deep.

“Falling asleep is like closing up the house for the night,” says Dr. N. J. Berrill, of McGill University. “You close your eyes, switch off the electrical signals pouring along the optic nerves and those from the ears and skin, and you cut out the electrical messages sent in by all muscles under tension.”

We don’t sleep at the same depth all night, but in a series of waves. Col. Williams says the lightest stage of sleep occurs at the beginning of the night; we then gradually go into deep sleep. It takes us thirty to forty minutes to get there, and we remain deeply asleep for about half an hour. We repeat this cycle three or four times a night.

According to a new theory advanced at a recent symposium at the Royal Society of Medicine in London, there are two kinds of sleep. One is called “orthodox” and comes from the mechanism of the brain's cortex (the outer layer of grey matter), and the other is “paradoxical” and comes from the carotid sinus (the valve in the main artery of the neck) which is supposed to have a dampening effect on the excitement centres of the brain and so induces sleep.

It’s during the latter type of sleep that we dream, and dreaming seems to be necessary for good sleep. Researchers have found that people prevented from dreaming show pronounced psychological disturbances, including anxiety, irritability and difficulty in concentrating. Ordinarily, everybody dreams an hour or more a night and dreams come in three or four bursts of from ten to forty minutes’ duration, mostly during the last third of the night.

No one knows why we dream, but Dr. William Dement, of Stanford University, has found that people prevented from dreaming make up for it later: during the first recovery night after his subjects were prevented from dreaming their total dreaming time increased.

“Generally speaking, a person is especially quiet during the dreaming phase,” says Col. Williams, “except for eye movements, which and striking and rapid. There are twitches of the hands and feet, and now and then a gross body movement.”

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Most dreams arc visual, hut persons who have lost their sight before the age of five dream in sound, not sight. On the other hand, recently blinded people have vivid visual dreams. Deaf people use sign language in their dreams, the sight parts of which are often brilliantly colored. People who deal with color in their daily lives dream in color frequently, and others, who normally dream in black and white, may have occasional color dreams.

We seem to dream about anything. Mostly we seem to be in familiar surroundings and prefer play to work. Sometimes we are the only person present; if there are others they are more likely to be strangers. Men dream about men about twice as often as they do about women; women divide their dreams about equally between men and women. Mostly, we dream about people our own age—but children dream about their parents, and parents about their children. In other words, we dream about what we are most concerned with or interested in.

Analyses of dreams suggest that w'e would rather go places than do things, that we’re more friendly than hostile; among our emotions, apprehension is dominant. But on the whole, we seem to have pleasant rather than unpleasant dreams.

Dr. C. T. Tart, of Stanford University, says that because dreams represent an interplay between the person's psychological processes and external stimuli, it is possible to control it. Under hypnosis one subject was instructed to dream of a perilous situation, hut invariably he added a happy ending. The control of dreams by hypnosis may therefore become a useful psychiatric technique. It also could he developed to communicate practical information — to warn a sleeping astronaut of impending danger. for example.

But before we can dream, we must sleep, and what—short of taking pills —can wc do to get to sleep?

First, say the experts, find the sleep pattern that suits us best and stick to it. (Speaking to the Victoria Women's Association in Toronto last November, Dr. Clarke of Victoria College urged members to try to develop regular sleep habits in their children while they are still in high school.) Generally speaking, we need between seven and eight hours of sleep a night.

“To feel well and get the best out of life, no one can cut the traditional eight hours by very much,” says Dr. Harry J. Johnson, of Columbia University. (There are exceptions, of course, and a notable one is Dr. Michael Ellis DeBakey, who recently operated on the Duke of Windsor. He works twenty hours a day and believes this is not injurious to health; he thinks most men are physically and mentally capable of doing at least twenty percent more than they actually do. )

Having decided how much sleep wc need, we must find a routine that suits us. Here again we are typed: one type is tired in the evening, quickly falls asleep and soon reaches the greatest depth of sleep, waking refreshed and well rested: the other type is alert in the evening, doesn't fall asleep easily, sleeps most deeply toward morning, waking feeling tired.

The first type has it all over the latter because our society's w'orking hours are largely based on an earlyto-bed. carly-to-rise system, and the person who doesn't want to go to bed before one or two o'clock in the morning generally isn't taken into account.

Other cultures sleep on floors, in half-sitting positions and in hammocks. Soldiers in battle sleep upright in foxholes if they have to. But Western civilization generally decrees that wc sleep in a bed, in a different room from the one we spend the day or the evening in.

The room should be cool enough for us to need a blanket.

Each person has his own way of preparing for sleep. Some people like a snack cither in bed or just before going. Being physically tired from exercise helps. (Mayor Philip Givens of Toronto takes a five-mile walk each night: or if he’s away and can't do that he takes sixteen hundred stationary running steps.) Coffee is a strong stimulant and doctors rccommend we avoid it at bedtime; if we're used to five or six cups a day we probably have a tolerance for it, hut even so our last cup should he taken with the evening meal. Soft music may help us sleep. Some people use alcohol, hut it doesn't guarantee good-quality sleep for, on coming out of deep sleep, the imbiber is more restless than usual.

There are many gadgets available to help us get to sleep. A Frenchman. Robert Lasserre, has invented a “sleep machine,” called a “Somnidor,” which looks like a TV set and works on the principle that a monotonous repetitious image will put the viewer to sleep. It gives off a blue light with a halo effect that expands and contracts in a breathing rhythm that is supposed to hypnotize the viewer.

At the Sleep Center in New York —run by Norman Dine, who advertises himself as “The man who cares more about your sleep than anyone else in the world!”—there is a device known as a Sleep-Mate, which emits a rhythmic soothing' sound that will “inhibit your restless brain and invite natural restful sleep.”

However we accomplish it, the trick is to relax—muscles and mind. Leave problems outside the bedroom door. Don't hold imaginary conversations or rehash the activities of the day. Mental exercise in the sense of working out problems that can be solved (for example, proving the theorem of Pythagoras) helps us relax. In Dr. Kleitman's book Sleep And Wakefulness, there’s this suggestion: “All one has to do is paint large imaginary figure 3s extremely slowly on a large imaginary black wall by means of an imaginary brush and a tin of white paint. Anyone who painted three of these 3s in this very slow manner would find it quite impossible to remain awake.” Another researcher suggests going through the alphabet in various categories (for example, with one-syllable animals: ape. bear, cat, dog . . . ).

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Mrs. Mary Lane Epp. a registered nurse, spends her time at Toronto's Bell Clinic teaching tense patients to relax and this is her method (she herself uses it every night): lie on back, under loose light covers, with one pillow under head and another under knees: arms down at sides. Stretch {firmly, then go limp. Empty lungs, breathe deeply and fill to capacity, then release breath slowly. Repeat if necessary. Once so relaxed that you can lie perfectly still, pretend you are standing by your bed looking down at yourself and thinking about being limp and loose and letting go. Your face should be expressionless: eyelids .should droop shut and eyes sink far back into the head: let the jaw relax. Think relaxed: repeat. “Let go . . . let go more . . . let go more . . . ”

To be good at any activity involving muscles—say. tennis or skating— we have to practise often and regularly: the same is true of relaxing. The oftener we practise, says Mrs. Epp. the sooner we’ll be proficient, and the quality of our sleep will improve.

No one has ever died from insomnia—simply because the body has a craving for sleep. People who have been deprived of it for two or three days and are then allowed to go to bed at their usual time to sleep as long as they like, will sleep nine-andone-half or ten hours the first night: and they’ll continue to add an hour or two to their normal night's sleep for three or four nights. They may even take an afternoon nap on the first recovery day. So, if we go short on sleep one night and give ourselves a chance to make it up the next, we probably will.

On the other hand, there is no evidence that we can put sleep “in the bank.” C ol. Harold Williams says that if we know we have a tough time coming up — such as staying up all night — it won’t help to sleep longer for a couple of nights before, though a nap just before may be useful.

So there we are. A good night’s sleep is important for maintaining health, hut the tensions and pace of modern life combine against our getting it regularly. We can help ourselves by finding a sleep pattern that suits us as individuals and sticking to it. And there is an abundance of inventions and suggestions to help coax sleep. Above all, we mustn’t worry, about our problems—or not sleeping.

Easier said than done? Let's give the last word to Dr. Samuel Johnson, who lived two hundred years ago: “To have the management of the mind is a great art, and it may be attained in a considerable degree by experience and habitual exercise.